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One of the first Tara King episodes of The Avengers, The Curious case of the Countless Clues was made during a tempestuous time in the series' history and might never have seen the light of day, or been butchered within an inch of its life (as was the fate of The Great Great Britain Crime, which became Homicide and Old Lace).
As it is, its one of my favourite Tara episodes. True its not particularly witty or bizarre - its a straight forward thriller. But a great cast, a neat central idea and a perfectly suspenseful ending combine to make a top notch episode. Watch out for villains Earle and Gardiner (a pun on Perry Mason creator, Erle Stanley Gardiner), two of the creepiest and best played baddies Tara comes up against.
The Baron: Masquerade (1966)
The Baron x2!!
Every 60s cult TV show worth its salt has it's 'doppelganger' episode - The Avengers did it, Randall and Hopkirk did it and yes, The Baron did it. In a two parter, no less! Masquerade is the first of those episodes, and introduces us to 'Eddie' played, of course, by Steve Forrest. Eddie is part of a gang hoping to pull off the 'crime of the century' (another ITC cliché..) and has had his face polished off by yet another staple of this type of thriller-TV, the plastic surgeon. There's a neat twist to The Baron's otherwise unoriginal offering, however, when Eddie is actually disposed of fairly early on in the plot and we're left with Mannering impersonating Eddie, impersonating himself.
The guest cast is impressive, with Bernard Lee on form as the gang leader and John Carson giving a typically flawless performance as the plastic surgeon. In fact he steals the episode, coming across as really quite likable despite his murderous manner, and striking up a friendship with 'Eddie' in the early scenes (before becoming suspicious of him once Mannering takes his place). Steve Forrest also deserves mention for convincing as a different character when playing Eddie, but always keeping Mannering as recognisably The Baron.
A very good episode, one of the strongest in fact.
The Baron: Epitaph for a Hero (1966)
Epitaph for the heist film
I was very surprised, about half way through this episode, to realise that the plot was almost entirely lifted from the (then) recent, Oscar winning heist film 'Topkapi'. The episode begins with a bizarre funeral scene which probably owes more to another great 60s crime film, 'Charade'. The dead man, it turns out, is very much alive and recruits the Baron for a robbery in which he is to act simply as a fence. In true 'Topkapi' style, John Mannering is found out for the double agent he is, a foot is injured and Mannering is forced to take a place in the actual scheme. Further tension is added with the capture of Cordelia by the crooks and a threat to her life...
A pedestrian episode of what is essentially a pedestrian series, lacking the charm and appeal of other ITC work. Nevertheless its an enjoyable way to spend 50 minutes, and the actual robbery is fairly original, in an unlikely sort of way.
Average bow out to a great series
If 'Somebody Loses, Somebody...wins?' is a Man in a Suitcase take on the bond film, then this is their caper movie. Owing a lot to the heist movies so popular in the preceding decade, this episode sees McGill gathering a team for a 'robbery' which, inevitably, goes wrong.
Naturally everything isn't everything it seems - McGill is in fact after some sensitive information. Things are complicated by the group's discovery by a lost tourist. The woman becomes the centre of heated debate between honourable McGill and his more bloodthirsty crew..
The supporting cast are all fairly good and this episode sees standard direction and writing - but nothing more. It's all very average and its a real shame to see such a powerful series end on a whimper rather than a bang. Reed de Rouen must have been proud of it, however - as well as co-writing, he appears as one of the gang.
The Avengers: Epic (1967)
A Z.Z von Schnerk Production!!
A unique episode in The Avengers canon and one which invariably divides fans, marmite-like, into 'love it' or 'loath it' groups. Epic is a surreal masterpiece, for my money, and a knowing wink at the audience from the Avengers team - its avant garde, high camp and the epitome of 60s decadence, but it sure is fun.
A mad movie mogul (Kenneth J. Warren), complete with riding boots, whip and Germanic accent, along with his over the hill studio stars, Peter Wyngarde and Isa Miranda, kidnaps Emma Peel in the hope of filming a new masterpiece about her life and violent death. And thats about it - for once there is no political intrigue, no scores being settled, von Schnerk and his actors have chosen Emma apparently at random. Much silliness ensues, as a perpetually cool and aloof Emma is subjected to film cliché after cliché. There's a nice cameo from David Lodge as an ill fated 'policeman' and some swipes at the studio systems of the day (Emma even performs an MGM style lion growl...), as well as some wonderful dialogue and unforgettable imagery (the wedding/funeral scene manages to be both an excellent spoof of 60s art-house films and a genuinely spooky moment). Steed's recognising Wyngarde's voice on an answering phone message is a tad far fetched but just adds to the fun - the scene is set for a final show down, complete with honky-tonk piano and buzz saw!! Indulgent fun at its best.
No laughing matter
This is one of the best episodes from the fourth series of Public Eye, and one of the best overall. As with the other episodes of this series, the focus is more on Marker than on his case, although curiously centre stage is taken in this episode more by Joe Melia, who turns in an astounding performance as disillusioned comic Billy Raybold. All the episodes from the fourth series were written by series co-creator Roger Marshall, and they are some of the best written pieces the series saw. More than that, Marker's character is written with more care we know this is the real Marker, what his creator would have him say.
Marshall writes Raybold with the same care. He is a remarkably layered and complex character, considering he is appearing in one 50 minute episode of a long running series. He laughs and jokes endlessly, but in between this are glimpses of a truly lonely and depressed man, who realises his failures and faults. The audience quickly sympathise with him, despite his faults, and this creates a curious dilemma for the viewer when Marker and Raybold argue both characters are basically good, and neither understands the other properly. Indeed, only the audience sees every side of Raybold he does not pursue the young girl who has joined the act (and whom Marker is searching for), he is too old and tired. Marker presumes the two are having an affair, as does the girl's Aunt, but Raybold makes no effort to correct him. He tries to warn the girl from joining a profession which offers only disappointment, but does not help Marker find her. He is a unique, self pitying but sympathetic figure, a man of character (a word, Raybold points out, that is very old fashioned).
The episode is not just about Raybold (he just steals it), and it does show some interesting developments with Marker. He is dissatisfied with the Inquiry Agency he joined in the previous episode, 'Case for the Defence', and wishes to set up on his own. This will be difficult, however, as he is on parole and can not find funding. His relationship with his landlady, Mrs. Mortimer, also develops: she offers to help him financially and also asks that he call her Helen, a big move for the very reserved Marker.
An excellent, if slightly downbeat, episode, 9.5/10.
Bream and Hopkirk (deceased)
Randall and Hopkirk episodes are always a mixture, some mysteries, intelligent whodunits with a sprinkle of laughs, whilst others are played almost entirely for laughs with only the slightest of plots. 'When the Spirit Moves you' is one of my very favourite episodes for the simple reason that it manages to be very funny and clever at the same time.
Perhaps the best thing about the episode is the wonderful Anton Rodgers as Calvin P. Bream, probably the best guest character the show ever had. Rodgers' drunken con artist is hilarious. Getting ideas above his station, he tries to dupe a mobster and, when everything gets too big for him, he tries to make the unsuspecting Randall his fall guy. All the leads give great turns, and Ivor Dean puts in another appearance as Inspector Large (virtually a reprisal of his role as Inspector Teal opposite Roger Moore's The Saint). The story moves at a speedy pace and remains interesting throughout.
There are a few moments which are less than believable (Jeff survives an explosion at very close quarters) and Bream's American accent isn't entirely convincing, but he's such a lovable character you almost wish he could stay on for the rest of the series.
I recently picked up the Region 2 DVD set, ITC at 50 - one episode of each of the main ITC series'. These were mostly the pick of the crop, presumably so buyers might be introduced to new shows they'll also want to own on DVD. The Prisoner, Champions, Saint, Strange Report, Departmen S etc. episodes were all very good, some excellent, but I was disturbed to see 'Just for the Record' as the example of the wonderful Randall and Hopkirk (deceased).
This has always been my least favourite episode, for a number of reasons. R & H was always tongue in cheek, with larger than life characters and eccentrics to rival some sitcoms. Here, however, the villains are simply ridiculous - Ronald Radd, with type cast delusions of grandeur, and two very rough looking heavies who are supposedly Lords. As well as this, we have some of the very worst imposed images ever seen, even for a 60s show, when the villains are in a boat supposedly on the Thames. Jeff acts even more stupidly than normal, turning his back on the femme fatal so she can change her clothes (obviously, she hits him) and ignoring Marty and the case so he can chase the women he's supposed to be protecting. Which is another, slightly distasteful, thing about this episode. These 60s shows rarely miss the opportunity to show a woman in a bikini, but here things are taken to a new level as minutes of footage are devoted to a (plot-wise) superfluous Beauty contest. The final car chase also ends on a real anti-climax.
That's not to say this episode is plain awful - no episode of R & H is a complete loss. Danny Green (One Round in 'The Ladykillers') is of interest as one of the thugs (it was also his last screen role)and there is some good fire footage. The story goes that the film lot itself caught fire and that all the crews rushed out to get some material - the same fire appears in an episode of The Champions.
The Avengers: Game (1968)
All time classic episode
'Game' is generally regarded fondly by almost all Avengers fans, with a majority agreeing that it is one of the very best episodes ever made. It often finds its way onto top ten lists, and its easy to see why.
Its the classic Avengers formula - a group of men are being systematically killed, by similar means. In this case, the killer uses childhood games as his inspiration. Steed and Tara King must find the connection between the men being killed and track down the killer, with only a handful of jigsaw pieces as a clue. This episode benefits from an excellent script and a great cast - the wonderful Peter Jeffries appears as perhaps the ultimate Avengers villain, just a year or so after turning in a similarly evil performance in the Emma Peel episode 'Joker'.
The episode is not perfect, however. The killings and kidnappings are wonderfully handled and the dialogue sharply threatening, but some hideous interiors really date this as a television piece and the sped up jigsaw scene is just awful. It shouldn't detract from the episode however, which is one of the most well remembered episodes among non-fans.